The Beautiful Ashes

Page 18

“Take it,” Adrian said softly from behind me.

“Sold,” I told the teller, pushing the pile toward her. If I didn’t have enough pretend money in it, I’d get more from Adrian or play up the dumb blonde stereotype as an excuse for not being able to count.

After more brisk typing, the teller handed me the two blank stubs, most of the blank pages—my change, I supposed—and a ticket with the fake name I’d chosen for myself. Adrian bought his ticket, then we checked our bags and proceeded to our gate.

That’s when my last shred of denial ripped away. Some tiny part of me must’ve still been clinging to the idea that everything I’d seen was a hallucination, just like countless doctors over the years had assured me. But after a TSA official ran our blank stubs through a computer that authenticated them as valid IDs, the truth was undisputable.

I wasn’t experiencing a psychotic break with another equally crazy companion. The fact that even computer systems were fooled by Archon glamour proved that this was nothing short of a supernatural phenomenon. Archons—angels—were real. Demons were, too, and I was going to enter into their world to find a weapon so Adrian and I could kill them.

To say I was in way over my head was an understatement.

This time, I was the one who brooded in silence over the next couple days of layovers and long flights. When the plane finally touched down in Durango, I’d come to the same realization I had in Bennington over two weeks ago.

I had nothing left to lose. My whole family had been taken from me, and I didn’t have someone special waiting back at college. Truth be told, there had never been anyone special. I used to blame my lack of romantic enthusiasm on the medication I took, but now that I knew the pills were placebos, I had to admit the problem was me. I even kept my roommate and my other friends at arm’s length, so while they’d miss me if I never came back, it wouldn’t leave a big hole in their lives. Sure, we had fun hanging out, but no matter how many parties we went to or how many nights we stayed up talking, part of me hadn’t really been there. I think they must have sensed that because while I didn’t lack for friends, I’d never been anybody’s best friend. That took the kind of trust and honesty I’d only shared with Jasmine. With everyone else, I was too busy pretending not to catch glimpses of things only I could see, or worrying if I was living the college life the way everyone expected me to. Most days, I worked harder at faking “normal” than I did on my grades, friendships or the few-and-fleeting relationships I’d had. So while I was scared shitless, the only person who’d really care if I didn’t make it was Jasmine, and my doing this was her only hope of surviving.

It kinda sucked seeing how little my life mattered in the big scheme of things, but then again, that was also my biggest advantage. People with nothing to lose were dangerous, and since I was taking on demons, I needed to be as dangerous as I could.

As we disembarked, Adrian grasped my arm, the contact sending a familiar shiver through me. He was the only guy who’d made me feel everything I’d been missing all these years, and for reasons he refused to discuss, he wanted nothing to do with me. Figured.

“I know I deserved it, but are you done paying me back for all the times I’ve given you the silent treatment?” he asked.

I looked at him, taking in his height, muscular build and devastating good looks that were invisible to everyone but me. Then I spoke the first words I had in over a thousand miles.

“Yeah, I’m done, and more important, I’m ready.”

* * *

We spent the night in a hotel in Ceballos, one of Durango’s smaller towns. Adrian spoke fluent Spanish, which helped with checking in and getting dinner. Jet lag and my new resolve ensured that I slept well, and in the morning, I found out that we weren’t driving to the entrance of the demon realm alone. Two guys approached us as soon as we entered the hotel parking lot, exchanging back-slapping man-hugs with Adrian.

“Ivy, this is my friend Tomas,” Adrian said, indicating the tough-looking Hispanic man with a scar curving from his neck down to his upper arm.

“Hola,” I said, wishing I’d taken more than two years of Spanish in high school. Tomas accepted my outstretched hand, shaking it firmly.

“Hola, senorita.” Then his stoic features cracked, and he flashed a wide smile at Adrian. “La rubia es caliente! Hora de que empieces a salir de nuevo, mi amigo.”

“It’s not like that,” Adrian said in English, though I’d translated enough to get the misassumption. “Ivy and I aren’t dating. We’re...friends.”

I stiffened at his pause. No, we weren’t besties, but did he have to make it obvious that I was an unwelcome acquaintance? Something reckless stirred in me. Adrian might not want me around, but he wanted some things from me. Plus, I might die before sundown and I wasn’t sure I’d really lived during the past twenty years. Time to change that.

I gave Tomas a wide grin as I wrapped my arms around Adrian’s midsection.

“Don’t mind him, he’s in denial over how crazy he is about me,” I said glibly. “You should’ve seen him rubbing my ass the other night. It’s like he was trying to polish it shiny.”

Adrian gazed at me in disbelief. Tomas choked back a laugh, and the guy I hadn’t been introduced to yet let out a low chuckle.

“Looks like you have more on your plate than just demons, Adrian,” he drawled, his accent sounding Mediterranean.

Adrian’s hands flexed on my back, as though he was having trouble deciding whether to push me away or mold me closer. His gaze had changed, too. Disbelief turned to something darker and infinitely more enticing in those silvery sapphire depths.

“You have no idea what you’re toying with,” he said, the growled words barely audible.

“What if I want to know?” I replied, and shivered as his grip on me began to tighten.

I’d started this as a game, but it felt very serious now. His stare burned into my eyes with more than the lust I’d called his bluff on. Secrets, promises and lies seemed to swirl together, drawing me in and warning me away at the same time. When he pulled me closer, those warnings collapsed under the explosion of sensation as he pressed against me, and when his hand coiled through my hair, pulling my head back with a strong, possessive grip, I didn’t just shiver. I shuddered.

“Do you and your friend want to postpone our trip until tomorrow?” an amused voice asked.

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